Some people think that the best sleeping position to aid digestion is the left side. But, research is limited, and most evidence is anecdotal.
In this article, we discuss how sleeping positions may impact digestion and other aspects of a person’s health, plus other tips for sleeping well.
Many people believe that sleeping on the left side is the best option for digestion. However, whether a person chooses to sleep on their front, side, or back, it is imperative that they get themselves in the correct position, have supportive pillows, and a firm mattress.
- Gut health: There is no medical evidence to support that sleeping on one side is more beneficial than the other. However, the location of the stomach is a clue. The stomach’s natural position is on the left side, where it can digest food more effectively. Gravity helps the waste travel from the small intestine to the large intestine.
- Help with heartburn: People who experience heartburn should sleep on their left side, as right-side sleeping relaxes connecting muscles between the stomach and the esophagus. When these muscles contract, they help control the acid reflux process. Research from the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology has shown a higher likelihood of acid reflux from sleeping on the right side.
The National Sleep Foundation have carried out polls since 1991 to identify people’s sleeping habits in the United States. In 2020, they highlighted that significant numbers of people in America feel sleepy about 3 days per week, which often impacts on their daily lives.
With such high numbers, it is no surprise that people are interested in which sleeping positions work best. A 2017 cross-sectional study investigating sleep positions and movement has shown that the predominant sleeping position is on the side.
Side sleeping has many other health benefits apart from aiding digestion. However, a person must adequately support their body with a firm mattress and pillows, no matter what side they sleep on. This article examines the pros and cons of side sleeping.
Side sleeping benefits
- Brain power: A 2015 animal study using mice reports that side sleeping helps to remove toxins from the brain and may even reduce the risk of neurological disease.
- Keep snoring under control: Sleeping on the side helps keep airways open, which means people are less likely to snore.
- Pressure point: Lying on the right side reduces pressure on the heart muscles by creating more space in the chest cavity. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reports that people with congestive heart failure (CHF) felt more uncomfortable when sleeping on their left side.
If a person wants to sleep on their side, positioning a pillow at the base of their spine will help them maintain that position.
Side sleeping cons
Side sleeping can affect blood flow and put pressure on the stomach and lungs. Resting on one arm can also cause numbness, while a person with shoulder problems may have difficulties lying on their side.
As the head tends to move forward when a person sleeps on their side, it is important to use a firm and responsive pillow. This is the best way to ensure alignment between the head and spine.
Another way of keeping the spine and lower half of the body aligned is by putting a pillow between the legs. This can also help support the knees.
Side sleeping adds additional pressure to the face, so be wary of wrinkles.
The National Sleep Foundation indicate that sleeping on the back, or in a supine position, is the healthiest position for sleep. However, only 8% of people sleep like this.
Benefits of sleeping on the back
- Even weight distribution: Sleeping on the back takes pressure off the hips and shoulders.
- Stable spine position: The head, neck, and spine can rest in a neutral position.
- Better pain management: A person is less likely to experience pain.
- Better acid reflux management: Facing the ceiling wards off acid reflux.
- Reduces grinding of teeth: A person is less likely to clench their jaw or grind their teeth while asleep.
- Helps maintain a youthful appearance: It reduces pressure on the face, resulting in fewer facial wrinkles.
Cons of sleeping on the back
One major issue with back sleeping is acid reflux, as this position allows acid to travel back up the throat.
Sleeping on the back can make snoring or sinus conditions worse. This happens because the back of the tongue collapses into the airway, obstructing breathing. People who snore should try sleeping on their side.
A person could help alleviate these symptoms by adding pillows to elevate their head. This can also help with headaches.
There are many reasons why experts do not recommend sleeping on the stomach. They include:
- It is challenging to keep the spine in a neutral position, which can cause back and neck pain.
- Placing the head on one side can strain the neck.
- Tucking hands or arms under a pillow may lead to numbness, tingling, or pain, and longer-term damage.
For those who sleep on their front, placing a firm pillow under the hips can raise the bottom of the spine, making sleep more comfortable.
Sleep may affect digestion because the stomach continues to work while a person is unconscious.
Eating just before sleeping can have a significant effect and lead to a variety of symptoms that can disrupt sleep. These include:
Here are some tips to help digestion before going to bed:
Avoid big meals before sleep
Like all functioning areas of the body, the digestive system needs plenty of time to rest and recover from daily life. It is not a good idea to eat a big meal before bedtime as it forces the digestive system to keep working.
However, a person should not go to bed hungry. A light snack, such as an apple or some avocado toast, is a better idea.
Complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, or a small dose of protein can deal with hunger pangs.
Eat 3 hours before bedtime
The ideal time to eat an evening meal is 3 hours before going to bed. This gives the stomach time to digest the food properly. It moves into the small intestine and can prevent problems such as heartburn.
Once a person lies down, the contents of the stomach can reflux into the esophagus, which can lead to heartburn or chest discomfort. Food intake prompts the body to release insulin, which can affect a person’s internal body clock and increase wakefulness.
Stick with the water
Avoid drinking coffee late at night as caffeine blocks adenosine, which is a chemical that makes you feel sleepy.
Other drinks to avoid include sodas, tea with sugar, and hot chocolate. This will also decrease the chances of having to urinate in the middle of the night.
The most important aspect of sleeping patterns is getting a good amount of sleep and trying to establish a routine. If a person has sinus or snoring issues, a change of position may help alleviate those problems.
As people get older, pains and medical conditions affect their sleep, which means they may stay in one position for a more extended period. So, it is essential to find the right position.
A few simple tweaks to the sleeping routine, with extra pillows or a new position, might be the difference between a peaceful or restless night’s sleep.